Patient Stories

Patient Story: Mitchell Z

When I was 14, I spent weeks preparing for a surgery that would change more than I was ready for. I had been standing a bit off since I was about 8, never seeing the issue with it. As a child, you just assume the way you look and the way you stand is normal until you’re told otherwise. When I discovered I had idiopathic scoliosis, rare in men and especially rare to the degree I was afflicted, I was not surprised. The stance became worse and worse over time, culminating in an event where my good friend, sitting behind me in math class, drew a sketch of me from the back. My shoulders seemed so sloped I was almost sure it was an exaggeration, but the proof was all there. I was undeniably crooked, and that was something that I could no longer hide. Spinal fusion was no joke, a large-scale surgery with a sizable recovery period and a seemingly frightening procedure. I had seen the models of fused spines, and the large metal bars struck me as uncomfortable and limiting. Deep down, however, I knew surgery was something I needed and something that could improve my life greatly. At the time, I had become very insecure with my body; my curvature could not be ignored, and the way I stood and the slope my shoulders took on was more than I could bear. I became accustomed to the jokes people made at my expense, especially because I knew I could get better. Eventually, you learn to roll with the punches, but the impact that had on me as a kid was stronger than it felt like at the time. I didn’t want to be a gymnast or an athlete, but the least I could ask for was the ability to stand up straight.

I knew fusion was my best option to look and feel how I wanted to, and I looked forward to the day I could say I had finished the process. Months and months of planning went by in the lead up to the surgery, and as I worried less my parents worried more. I had no context for the surgery’s severity and felt only wanted to get the whole thing over with. The seminar I visited with my mom was both enlightening and alienating, with 1 boy for every 20 girls and a fascinating model of a fused spine in the lobby, giving me my first look at the finished product and exciting me with the novel concept of large metal implants. I’m not sure about the general feeling that most people feel about pre-surgery, but going in I thought only good things. I go in, I go out, I get a cool scar, and my posture is fixed. To be fair, all 4 of those things DID happen, but there was plenty in between that I absolutely did not expect.

The surgery was over in the blink of an eye, and I always felt I was in good hands thanks to Dr. Newton. The part I wasn’t truly prepared for was the 2 weeks after the surgery in which I had to adjust to my drastically changed body. Of course, my curve had been nearly fully corrected. While I had started with 55 degree thoracic and 45 degree lumbar curves, I now seemed as straight as I could imagine. On the downside, the recovery brought challenges I truly wasn’t expecting. Looking at myself in the mirror could often be harrowing, as I had lost so much muscle I was proud of and the blood that made up my complexion. I had expected to finally look better after the surgery, not like the way I now viewed myself. Having to roll myself out of bed and remain propped up on my side while I recovered grew old quickly, and the monotony of this was not something I think I was prepared for. Oxycontin, the medication prescribed to deal with the pain of the recovery, proved itself to be a little too effective. After I started to wean off it, I reacted poorly, craving more and more and becoming physically sick after being cut off officially. At the time, this desperate behavior struck me as rational, but in hindsight it was obvious I was just ill-prepared for the reality of this situation. It’s no universal truth that pain medication will provoke these reactions in everyone, but I feel as though that struggle was something I never prepared for properly. Returning to school early for band camp was the worst of it. I was disoriented, sore, and couldn’t wait to go home to continue resting.

Luckily, these were all temporary ailments. My strength and color returned in time, with a fixed up posture to boot. I was genuinely healthier than ever with a stance that did not act deceptively. Today, I’m confident that the process was one of the best decisions for myself I’ve ever made, and I encourage anyone else in a similar situation to do the same. However, communicating with others who have had the surgery is essential to understanding the unique struggles that come with the recovery. It’s not just lying in bed for a bit! There is a definite mental to the experience can take on you especially as a teenager. Make sure you have people who support you through the process and understand that coming out stronger is nearly guaranteed.


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